Who doesn’t love New England’s most iconic recipe, New England clam chowder? But did you know you can make chowder from any type of fish or shellfish? Lobster corn chowder, various fish chowders, and crab chowder are some of the more commonly made seafood chowder recipes. But perhaps the most underrated and most delicious is scallop chowder.
The sweetness of scallops adds a subtly different flavor to chowder. Their tender, buttery texture can be a nice change from run-of-the-mill restaurant clam chowders or God forbid, canned chowders.
Now, most scallop chowder recipes simply mimic a traditional cream-based New England clam chowder by substituting scallops for clams. Nothing wrong with that! However, in this recipe, I’m going to make a Scallop Chowder with Wild Mushrooms and Chives. It adds a unique, fun, and flavorful twist to the conventional chowder formula!
This recipe comes directly from my cookbook, New England Soups from the Sea, which includes 18 chowder recipes using all types of seafood. But for this post, I changed one ingredient from the cookbook recipe. It’s a minor change but it’s an ingredient I found only after my book was published. Turns out, it’s a perfect fit for this scallop chowder recipe.
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The one difference between scallop chowder and other types of chowder is that scallops don’t make their own broth or stock. Most scallop chowder recipes call for fish broth (also called fish stock) or chicken stock. But neither of those is the ideal choice.
Did you know that clam broth, and not clams, is actually the secret ingredient in New England clam chowder? Its strong, briny flavor, slightly tempered by milk or cream is what gives clam chowder that beautiful background flavor of the sea.
It does the exact same thing for any scallop chowder recipe.
But you want to make sure you choose the right type of clam broth. That’s where store-bought clam juice typically comes in. However, I recently came across a fantastic and even more affordable option.
St. Ours Clam Broth. As far as I know, it’s the only dehydrated clam broth on the market.
Note: St. Ours sent me free samples and this is a sponsored post. That said, I always reserve the right to NOT review a free product if I don’t like it, or feel you wouldn’t like it.
Clams contain highly concentrated juices inside their shells. When clams are steamed in water, the shells open and the juices flavor the water, resulting in liquid clam broth. St. Ours simply dehydrates that liquid broth into a powder, resulting in dehydrated clam broth.
The powder can then be rehydrated by adding water whereby it becomes liquid clam broth again.
It comes in a box with 4 packets of dehydrated broth and a small pamphlet of recipes. Each packet yields 8 ounces for a total of 4 cups of clam broth per box. That’s a lot!
Besides how easy it is to use, here are some other benefits of stocking some St. Ours Clam Broth in your kitchen pantry…
But here is probably the most important benefit…
Like real clam broth! Seriously, I was very impressed. And trust me, it takes A LOT to impress me.
It was naturally strong and salty, in a good way, as clam broth should be. It also tasted quite fresh, which again, is what a good clam broth should taste like.
Many clam juice products taste more like chicken broth than clam broth. Some clam juice products also taste overly clammy, which in part is why clam juice can have a negative reputation.
But you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between St. Ours Clam Broth and a fresh clam broth you made yourself. It’s that pungent aspect of clam broth that can enhance so many seafood dishes, like clam chowder, white clam sauce, shrimp scampi, or any seafood stew.
Here’s a quick video demo to show you how easy it is to rehydrate!
Simply check out the Markets link on St. Ours’s website. If you can’t find it in a market near you, you can simply order it directly from their website.
OK, let’s get to the recipe!
The only thing I forgot to include in the above pic is unsalted butter. Here’s the full list for a serving size of about 6 people.
Sea scallops or bay scallops. Either one will make a fantastic scallop chowder recipe. Sea scallops come from deep sea waters. They’re bigger than bay scallops and available year-round. Bay scallops come from shallower bays and estuaries on the East Coast and they’re only available from late fall to early winter.
Bay scallops are often labeled from the location where they’re harvested. Popular bay scallops include Nantucket bay scallops and Peconic bay scallops. Their flavor is nothing short of remarkable; sweeter, and even more succulent than sea scallops. They can fetch a high price for this reason and because of their limited availability. They make a most divine bay scallop chowder!
Try to avoid purchasing Calico scallops which are very small scallops, about the size of a fingertip. They’re often labeled as “bay scallops” but they come from deeper and warmer southern waters. They don’t have nearly as much flavor as sea scallops or true bay scallops.
Our wonderful food industry always makes things complicated. Wet scallops are sea scallops that are chemically treated to preserve them after harvest. This causes them to retain water which results in a loss of flavor and texture. Always seek out dry scallops, which are untreated and natural. Ask your fishmonger if the scallops on display are not clearly labeled.
You might also find dayboat scallops in markets. These are also dry sea scallops. Dayboat scallops come from scallop boats that return to shore within 24 hours of leaving, thereby ensuring very fresh sea scallops!
Wild mushrooms have much more complex and interesting flavors than mass-produced store-bought mushrooms. Common store-bought mushrooms include button mushrooms and cremini mushrooms. In fact, the first time I made this scallop chowder, I tried it with store-bought cremini mushrooms.
The flavor of the mushrooms just didn’t come through.
It was then that I remembered I had a nice bounty of frozen wild maitake mushrooms (also called “hen of the woods”) that I’d foraged in the past year. I re-made the chowder the next day and WOW! WHAT. A. DIFFERENCE.
The mushroom flavor was so much more pronounced. It complimented the scallops beautifully and adding some chives at the end was the perfect garnish.
Of course, you might not have your own foraged wild mushrooms hanging around in your freezer. In that case, many edible wild mushrooms are harvested by enthusiastic foragers and sold at farmers’ markets and other types of specialty markets.
Some of the more common types of wild mushrooms you might come across include maitake, black trumpets, chanterelles, morels, king boletes, and chicken of the woods. You can try any type of wild mushroom in this recipe or use combinations of them.
If there are few options for wild mushrooms where you live (or it’s just not wild mushroom season), there’s a simple solution.
They have a savory flavor that works really well in chowders and their meaty texture is actually similar to scallops. Though they only grow wild in Asia, shiitakes are now commercially cultivated all around the world, including here in North America. They are widely available in all types of markets, including supermarkets.
In a heavy bottom stock pot (ideally a good quality enameled cast iron stock pot), render fat from bacon over very low heat for about five to 10 minutes. When a few TBSPs render out, raise the heat to medium and brown the bacon slightly. Remove the bacon but leave the rendered fat in the pot. See the Recipe Notes for making bacon bits.
Add 2 TBSPs unsalted butter to the bacon fat. Add the onion, mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf and saute for 7 to 10 minutes over medium heat until softened and fragrant. Add the garlic in the last minute.
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a separate pot. Add 3 packets of St. Ours clam broth and dissolve. Yup, it’s that simple.
Raise the heat to high and bring everything back to a boil.
Add the potatoes and reduce the heat to a gentle boil. Cover the pot and simmer for about ten minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.
Add the scallops and simmer for a few minutes until they’re cooked through.
Add 1 cup of heavy cream and taste. This is where you can play around and make some final adjustments based on your personal tastes.
Does it need a little more brininess? Add another packet of St. Ours Clam Broth directly into the chowder and mix well. There’s no need to rehydrate it at this point.
Does it need a little more richness? Add up to 1 more cup of heavy cream.
You can also add a little salt here too, to taste. However, the clam broth has a natural saltiness. It should need very little if any additional salt.
Ladle the scallop chowder into individual bowls and add optional seasonings and garnishes to taste.
Optional seasonings and garnishes include parsley, freshly ground black pepper, hot sauce or red pepper flakes, and homemade bacon bits.
That is the great chowder question that is endlessly debated among chowderheads from Maine down to Connecticut. My feeling about it is that it depends on the recipe. Sometimes I’m anti-flour and sometimes I’m not. In the case of this scallop chowder recipe, I felt flour gave it a thickened texture that muted the flavor of the scallops and the clam broth.
But if you really love thickened chowder, well, then go for it. Just make sure not to overthicken it! That will really dull the flavor. There are two options.
After you saute the veggies in step 2 above, add 2 more TBSPs of butter and 4 TBSPs of flour. Whisk for several minutes until it thickens and becomes smooth. Now add the stock in, and continue to stir until it the stock thickens slightly. Proceed with the rest of the steps.
Dissolve 1/4 cup of potato starch in 1/4 cup of water in a small bowl to make a slurry. After you’ve added the scallops in step 5, add the slurry and stir constantly for several minutes until thickened.
Yes! If you want to make a more traditional scallop chowder recipe, just leave out the mushrooms. Either way, it will still be delicious.
Transfer the reserved bacon to an oven-proof baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees until the bacon turns really crispy. Let it cool and then dice the strips into bacon bits. These make an awesome topping for the scallop chowder!
Aging or curing soup just means letting it sit to allow the flavors to intensify. The longer the better. You’ll notice that chowder always tastes better the next day!
Scallop chowder is a great alternative to the ubiquitous clam chowder. Wild mushrooms complement scallops really well in both texture and flavor. Chives add the perfect finishing touch!
In a heavy bottom stock pot, render fat from bacon over very low heat for about 5 to 10 minutes. When a few TBSPs renders out, raise heat to medium and brown the bacon slightly. Remove the bacon but leave the rendered fat in the pot. Before serving the chowder, you can reheat the browned bits from the bacon and add them as a topping.
Add 1-2 TBSPs butter, if needed, for additional cooking fat.
Add onion, mushrooms, thyme and bay leaf and saute for 7 to 10 minutes until the onions and mushrooms are softened. Add garlic in the last minute.
Add the clam broth and bring to a boil.
Add the potatoes, cover the pot, and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through.
Add the scallops and simmer for a few minutes until they are cooked through.
Add 1 cup of the heavy cream and taste. Add up to 1 more cup of heavy cream to desired taste.
Add chives and gently stir in.
Add salt, to taste.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.